Soon, push-button house shopping

September 25, 1994|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Sun Staff Correspondent

OCEAN CITY -- Shopping for just the right house is about to become as easy as pushing a few buttons -- fun too, like playing a video game.

To hear some in real estate tell it, buyers won't need to walk through dozens of homes, each more a blur than the last, when they can narrow the field from their own living rooms.

Thanks to phone messages, computer networks and even cable TV that will interact with customers -- some of which is already in use -- buyers will likely take themselves through much of the selection process before they call a real estate agent.

Agents, in turn, will spend less time showing homes and more time closing deals and checking the status of computerized home listings.

To do so, they'd better get on track on the information superhighway.

That was one of the messages to 1,100 agents and brokers who gathered in this seaside resort Thursday through yesterday for the Maryland Association of Realtors 42nd annual convention.

"Consumers will be able to sit at their computers and pick out this or that type of house," especially as real estate boards let the public in on computerized listings, said Patrick M. Hewitt, a marketing consultant with RE/MAX central Atlantic region.

To survive, agents must be as technologically sophisticated as their clients and customers, he said.

From seminars on advanced technology to demonstrations of "notebook" computers that do everything from storing phone numbers to faxing contracts through credit card-sized modems, agents came face to face with tomorrow's tools of the trade.

It was Heather Humphries' job to help demystify those tools, which essentially will help agents sell homes as they always have -- though more effectively and efficiently, she said.

Ms. Humphries, a technology consultant from Leesburg, Va., said home buying and selling will increasingly rely upon interactive systems -- for instance, voice response by phone, in which a buyer could request information about specific types of homes for sale by size, price, style and location.

Television will become a much more powerful tool for selling homes once cable television becomes interactive and buyers can choose from among video presentations of homes, she said.

Demonstration systems are being set up by Bell Atlantic in Baltimore and Washington, by Southwest Bell and Cable TV Montgomery in Montgomery County, and by GTE in Northern Virginia.

Ms. Humphries also expects to see public access television, run by real estate boards or companies, on video monitors set up at kiosks at public places such as shopping centers.

"The message is that it's fun and easy to look at houses," she said. "It will improve the use of [agents'] time because [customers] have done the preliminary work for you."

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